Monday, October 3, 2011

The Fewer, The Better!

Not many people remember but after Sarah died Abraham married again and fathered 5 sons by Keturah, legally a woman of only concubine status.  One of those 5 sons was a man called Midian.  Midian, in turn,  had 5 sons who became the 5 progenitors of a “people of the east” known as the Midianites.  The Midianites were a nomadic people and lived at times in southeastern Palestine, in the Sinai Desert and southwest Israel alongside the Moabites.

Our first brush with Midian is positive.  Jethro, the father in law of Moses, was a priest of God and was from Midian. Apparently, there were very few God fearers among them, most were idolators.  When it becomes clear that Israel is going to enter Canaan and sweep the land clean of it’s inhabitants, Midian allied herself with Moab and began to militarily confront Israel.  Midian was out to play hardball, a move they would soon live to regret.  In Numbers 25 we learn that the Midianites infiltrated the camp of Israel, seduced both men and women to worship the false god Baal-Peor  which triggered the wrath of God.  A plague ensued upon the people and 24,000 died before the Lord until the plague was stopped by a man known as Phineas.  Phineas was a priest.  In fact he was not just any priest, he was the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron.  When Phineas observed that an Israelite man was taking a Midianite woman into his family circle, he arose and killed both the man and the woman with a spear.  The anger of the Lord was abated and Phineas was rewarded by God with a “covenant of peace” and a “covenant of perpetual priesthood” because he was “jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.”  Phineas became the warrior-priest for Israel.  God used him to strike a heavy blow to Midian. 

In Numbers 31, on instructions from God, Moses assembles an army of 12,000 men, 1,000 from each tribe in order to “execute the Lord’s vengeance on Midian.”  This army was led by none other than Phineas.  The Bible says that “every male” was killed from among them including the 5 kings of the five Midianite clans.  Baalam also died, the man who pushed the infiltration idea to start with.  This all took place “on the plains of Moab, across the Jordan, opposite Jericho.  Why, then, some 200 years later are the Midianites again a threat to Israel, now in the land of promise? 

History tells us that the Midianites not only were divided up among 5 tribes, some lived in fortified cities and some lived as roaming nomads in the wilderness.  The city dwellers were the warriors and defenders of their land so the nomadic portion of the people could sustain everyone with their shepherding and trading endeavors.  The nomads survived the slaughter for they were not present at the battle on the plains of Moab.  Over time, the Midianites rebuilt their powerbase and became so strong as to not only threaten Israel once more, they actually conquered Israel and held them under subjection for some 7 years

According to Judges 5, Israel “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and he gave them into the hands of Midian seven years.” (6.1 NASB)  Midian allied themselves with the dreaded and hated Amalekites and suppressed Israel in ways that are hard to imagine.  Israel was suppressed to such an extent that they abandoned their property and lived in caves while the enemy ravaged the land.  They cried out to God for deliverance and He heard them.  God sent them a deliverer, a man called Gideon whose name means “mighty warrior” or “faller of trees.”  How he delivered Israel is very instructive for us for it shows us an insight into the mind of God as He protects His people and sets them on a path to growth and faithfulness.

About fifty miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee is a place known as the Valley of Jezreel.  It is large and flat, very suitable for large armies of men to gather and fight.  Gideon set up camp overlooking the valley above a place known as “The Spring (or well) of Harod” that gives a continuous source of cold, clear and clean water that flows south and east into the Jordan River.  Today it is known as the “Springs of Gideon” and water STILL flows as it did many thousands of years ago.  Gideon had raised a small army, without weapons by the way, of 32,000 men.[1]  The enemy down in the valley numbered approx. 135,000![2]   Outnumbered nearly 4 to 1, the odds looked “mighty long,” especially in the light of the fact that the enemy was a fully trained and equipped professional military force.  That being the case, God now tells Gideon something spectacular, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, “My own power has delivered me.” (7.2 NASB)

God first tells all the men who are afraid to just go on home, 22,000 do so.  That leaves 10,000.  God tells Gideon that He is going to “test them.”  Gideon, at Gods direction, brings the men to the Springs of Harod and tests them as to just how they drink the water.  Only those who lie down prostrate and “lap the water up like dogs” are chosen.  All those who knelt down and scooped the water up with their hands were sent home.  This number turned out to be 9,700 leaving a force of 300 men!  NOW God was ready!

We all know what happens next, the 300 men at God’s direction under Gideon blow their trumpets, crash their lamp jars, hold up their torches and cry out at once, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”   Panic ensues in the ranks of the enemy so as they all flee their camps.  Gideon summons men from Naphtali, Asher and Manasseh and the enemy is pursued and killed, including their two field commander kings, Oreb and Zeeb.  The defeat was massive, 120,000 of the enemy were killed as they fled before Gideon.  In addition, Ephriam is summoned to secure a broad area, cutting off any possibility of retreat .  Later Ephriam routs the remaining whole army of 15,000.   The Bible says in Judges 8.28 that “…Midian was subdued before the sons of Israel, and they did not lift up their heads anymore.” (NASB)  Midian disappears from history.  God delivered Israel from the enemy with only Gideon and 300 men!

This is far more than just very interesting history, it gives us an insight into the mind of God as to what He will do for His Names Sake when he people are threatened or suppressed.  From His ranks he will purge the fearful and the faint hearted leaving only a faithful remnant with whom He will gain a great victory!

By application, when God delivers a congregation of His people who cry out to Him for deliverance, He may choose to separate His people into 3 camps, the Fearful, the Faint-Hearted and the Faithful.  We MUST take heed to make sure we are in the 3rd group, a distinct and tiny minority – a remnant!  As we have just discovered, only less than 1% were ultimately selected to remain in God’s army to attack Midian.  That means that 99% of those called by Gideon failed to make the cut.

·         The Fearful will not inherit a reward in Heaven – Revelation 21:8.  Those Christians that
bury their talents in the ground and refuse to confess Christ before men are fearful and will not gain their inheritance!
·         The Faint-Hearted  - James 4:8 – The fainthearted Christian is one that is apart from God, being a sinner and having an un-pure heart.  He in enjoined to “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  Elijah asked the faint hearted Jews on Mt. Carmel; “How long will you halt between two opinions?”  (I Kings 18.21)  The faint-hearted will not be used by God until they repent and return to God.
·         The Faithful – Matthew 25:21 – The faithful servant who has been faithful over a few things will be made ruler over many things! 

Let us all strive to be FAITHFUL in all things so that we will be in “God’s 1% remnant!” as was Gideon and his 300 men!  Those faithful will be used by God to save our congregation so that God can grow His church here in Charlotte!  The remnant will prevail in the struggle!

[1] This according to Judges 7.3
[2] This according to Judges 8.10
NOTE: Picture courtesy of:, a publication of the La Vista church of Christ

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